In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
Now that each member of the X-Men has been pretty well defined in Season One of the Animated Series, it seems that a great deal of Season Two is being devoted to fleshing out many of the characters’ backstories. We’ve already seen a few glimpses into Storm’s past and visited the homeland of part-timer Colossus this season, and this week’s double feature sheds a little more light on the roots of two of the more secretive and mysterious members of the X-Men, Wolverine and Gambit.
“Repo Man,” the fifth episode of Season Two, written by Wolverine creator Len Wein, begins with Wolverine wandering the Canadian wilderness looking for someone named Heather, only to run into a group of costumed Canadian mutants known as Alpha Flight. Their leader, Vindicator, reveals that Wolverine once worked with them before joining Xavier’s team and they intend to bring him back into the fold, by force if necessary. As always, Wolverine fights back, giving each member of Alpha Flight a chance to show off their powers before running off with the team giving chase. We are then taken back to Logan’s time as a test subject of the Weapon X project, where he is given his adamantium skeleton. After breaking free, he wanders the wilderness until he runs into James and Heather McDonald, who help him regain his senses and eventually make him a member of Alpha Flight, a team employed by a wing of the Canadian government known as Department H. Meanwhile, back at the Mansion, Jean uses Cerebro to search for Xavier, with no results.
Wolverine is eventually found and taken captive by Alpha Flight and taken back to their employer, where we find out that Heather had reluctantly set him up so that Department H can try to extract his adamantium skeleton in hopes of making soldiers like him. After a brief scene in which Xavier and Magneto escape an attack from one of the Savage Land mutates and another in which Jean senses Wolverine’s pain, we return to Canada, where Heather quits the mission out of sympathy for Logan and the rest of the team rebels against their employer and help their old teammate escape.
“Repo Man” is a much more effective Wolverine-centric episode than “Cold Vengeance” from the previous season, mostly because it deals with Wolverine’s origin and his past with Alpha Flight, a team that I pretty much grew up reading along with the X-Men back in the Eighties. I like how Wein’s script suggests that Logan had a similar role in Alpha Flight that he currently does with the X-Men, including a rather prickly relationship with the team’s leader and being on the losing end of a love triangle (He really has a thing for kindly redheads, doesn’t he?). One thing that I found odd about the Weapon X flashback is the suggestion that his claws first appeared after he was given his adamantium skeleton, which I guess was canon until the Origin book came out a few years later. Despite that little continuity hiccup, “Repo Man” is a pretty decent distillation of a storyline from the Claremont / Byrne run that introduced Alpha Flight to comic readers, and it was pretty cool that it was written by the man that first introduced the world to Wolverine in the pages of The Incredible Hulk before Claremont turned him into the tortured soul we all grew to know, love, and frankly get a little sick of at times. I could have done without the brief scenes with the rest of the team and the scene catching up with Xavier and Magneto, neither of which do anything to add to the story, but overall “Repo Man” earns 4 out of 5 Temple of Doom-Inspired Escapes.
The next episode, “X-Ternally Yours,” gives us a chance to get to know Gambit a little more, as he is called back to his childhood home to help out his brother Bobby, whom we learn is a member of a brotherhood of thieves who once every decade is charged with offering a “tithe” to a vengeful goddess named the External alongside a rival group of assassins. Rogue, Wolverine, and Jean follow Gambit to Louisiana, where we discover that his real name is Remy LeBeau and that he was betrothed to a member of the assassins’ guild named Bella Donna before running off and eventually joining the X-Men. Gambit learns that the assassins have kidnapped Bobby in order to make the thieves fail to make their offering to the goddess, which will mean his death. Bella Donna offers Gambit his brother in exchange for his hand in marriage, and Gambit accepts, discovering too late that the ring she gave him inhibits his powers, rendering him helpless.
Gambit’s teammates meet up with the thieves’ guild and hear about the deal that Gambit made. Gambit learns that Bella Donna intends to betray the thieves by giving Bobby a fake offering that she hopes will enrage the goddess and lead to the thieves’ total destruction. When both groups meet at the appointed place to make the offerings, joined by the three other X-Men, Gambit warns Bobby and the thieves of Bella Donna’s treachery and sparks a battle between the two guilds that is interrupted by the External’s appearance. Jean uses her powers to convince the External of the assassins’ treachery and threatens to destroy Bella Donna, but Gambit convinces her only to take the powers that she had granted her ten years before. Gambit then returns Bella Donna’s ring and tells her that he’s never coming back. The episode ends once again with Xavier and Magneto running afoul of more Savage Land Mutates, who have forsaken their old master and creator Magneto for an unnamed new leader.
If the point of these single-member-centric episodes of X-Men are to make us care more about certain members of the team, then “X-Ternally Yours” misses the mark. Granted, I was never a huge fan of Gambit’s to begin with, so this episode had an especially high hill to climb with me. Still, Gambit does have a cult following among many X-Men fans, and this episode does a decent job in fleshing out his backstory a bit. One of the few interesting aspects of Gambit’s character to me has been his complicated flirtation with Rogue, which is further explored here via her visible jealousy of his past relationship with Bella Donna. Overall, this was a decent episode with a fairly entertaining plot, even if the hilariously thick Cajun accents of the various guild members made Gambit’s seem subtle and nuanced by comparison. For offering a refreshing change of scenery and giving a little more depth to a still underdeveloped member of the team, “X-Ternally Yours” earns 3.5 out of 5 VR Monsters.